VERONA — Everything is brand new for the Verona High School girls' soccer team: A new coach, a new field, and a new approach.
After winning just three games last year, it's clear that the Verona Hillbillies will carry a fresh new look into the 2017 soccer season. In the spring, Verona hired Kerrin Goosman to become the team’s new head coach. A 2005 graduate of Verona High School, Goosman has instilled new training and conditioning regimens which have not only set the tone for how things will work this season, but her and her players already notice is making a difference.
“For starters, [the players] are in significantly better shape than they were in last year. I do think that that tended to bring the level of play down,” said Goosman, now in her first few weeks of running official team activities. “When I first met them back in May, I held a meeting to introduce myself to them and the parents, and I said, from that moment on, that ‘we would never lose a game because we are tired’. They took it seriously, I took it seriously, and these girls have been training throughout the summer.”
In that summer, the Lady Hillbillies trained with three sessions per week for 12 weeks to prepare for the season. This began to change the culture for the turnaround Verona hopes to achieve this fall, by not only strengthening the players, but creating a stronger work ethic.
All of that training serves a purpose — to improve the results on the field, which a year ago were disappointing by any measure. And one of those things Verona must improve upon on is goal scoring. The Hillbillies scored just 14 times in 18 games a year ago.
But Verona’s new offense, which will see an interesting combination of experience and youth, should change that. Returning forward Isabel Latorre, a senior captain, will be one of the team’s main scoring threats. Freshman Karen Andre should be exciting to watch as well. Andre is highly regarded and could even lead the team in scoring this year; she has already earned herself a starting spot and will start a varsity game before she attends her first high school class (Verona opens its season on Sept. 5 and school begins Sept. 6). Lara Tole will be returning as well, while Gabrielle Montagna will play as a holding midfielder, meaning she’ll create scoring opportunities by making solid passes and protecting the ball.
“We have a lot of strong strikers. It’s not just restricted to the forwards for being the top of the diamond, and just be attacking offense. Our midfielders and our center is really strong this year — we have so many great center midfielders,” Latorre said. “We’re working a lot together and there’s a lot of passing that goes on so that we can get into the perfect position to strike.”
On the defense, Ally Madigan, one of the team’s top returners, will highlight the D that looks to improve upon allowing 53 goals (2.9 per game) a year ago. Olivia Vogel, a left defender, will also be a key defensive cog. In total, Verona will be playing with three in the back plus a defensive midfielder.
“I am aiming to have my defenders on the field for a full 80 minutes. If I don’t have to take my defense off, they’re going to stay for the entire time,” Goosman said.
If opponents get past Verona’s defense, they will have to face senior goalkeeper Anna Rosinski, owner of 93 saves in 2016. Named one of Verona’s captains, Rosinski, will be consistently trying to stop some of the county’s best scorers from finding the back of the net, but all signs show the seasoned keeper is up for challenge.
“Last year, we didn’t do well obviously, and this year, we want to put that behind us and start the new season with the new team,” said Rosinski, one of the bright spots of last year. “We just want to forget last season — learn from it a little bit — but put it behind us, progress further as a team and take this as a whole new beginning.”
Verona will also have a unique home field advantage that never existed for them before. This season, turf playing surfaces were installed on the upper and lower fields behind the high school. The Verona girls elected to play on the lower turf field, which has a much larger playing field than what they were used to playing on in the past. The wider field will play to their advantage, because they can now play a different style and opposing teams, many of whom compete on cramped in fields on street blocks, will not be used to playing on such a large field.
“We’ve been working on the strategy where we take the ball up the sides a lot, because most teams that we play on our home field are not used to playing on such huge fields, so we have the home field advantage there. This is one of the reasons [Coach Goosman] selected this field to be our home field — so when other teams come here, they’re not really prepared for it and it gives us a bit of an advantage,” said Isabel Latorre.
A home field advantage could come in handy, because schedule for Verona certainly will not be easy. The Hillibillies have some large schools from around Essex County on their slate, such as Group 4s Bloomfield, Millburn, West Orange and Newark East Side. Other strong competition includes rival Cedar Grove and Montclair Kimberly. The only team on the schedule this year that Verona defeated in 2016 is Boonton.
“We have a couple of really good schools that we’re going to be playing against, and you know what? They’re definitely going to give us a run for their money. But this team specifically, these girls this year, the effort and dedication they’ve put in, they’re going to surprise people this year,” Goosman said.
“They have something to prove — and so do I.”